Fall sports plan remains ‘fluid’

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

While the news and plans regarding the high school fall sports season in Connecticut will undoubtedly change again, the CIAC announced this week that it plans on sponsoring all regular fall sports despite the recent wrench thrown in by the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

The plan as of Aug. 28 is to continue with noncontact conditioning practices and skill workouts in small groups, which had previously been paused due to the DPH’s guidance, while beginning full-team practices in all sports Sept. 21 and competitions in all sports Oct. 1.

That would also extend the proposed fall sports “postseason experience,” as the CIAC has termed it this year, an extra week to Nov. 22.

The two most contentious fall sports are football and volleyball. The DPH recommended in its mid-August letter to the CIAC that football, which is identified by multiple agencies as a high-risk COVID-19 transmission activity, and volleyball, which is identified as a moderate-risk activity, should not be sponsored this fall in their traditional format.

The DPH suggested 7-on-7 football, which would essentially be flag or touch football without linemen, and outdoor volleyball as alternatives. While the CIAC announced that outdoor volleyball will not be feasible due to school facilities and weather, executive director Glenn Lungarini’s comment about football merely expressed a hope.

“I am hopeful and confident that we can come to a common ground (with DPH) on providing time for the metrics to play out and determine whether or not it is safe to play or not play,” Lungarini said at a press conference Aug. 27. “That is the best we can look at it right now. The CIAC feels we would like to play 11 v. 11 (football). Our intent is to play 11 v. 11, but only if it is safe, and only after the metrics allow it after we have been in school for a period of time.”

Lungarini continued to emphasize that the CIAC’s plan is “fluid, fluid, fluid” with regard to responsiveness to COVID-19 metrics. It remains to be seen whether the DPH will seek action by Gov. Ned Lamont to follow its recommendation and ban traditional football and volleyball if the CIAC decides to move forward with its current plan.

The entire existence of high school sports during the 2020-21 school year depends on whether schools manage to stay at least partially open amid the pandemic. School districts that maintain at least a hybrid learning model, meaning at least some students physically attend school, will be allowed to participate in sports. Any school district that moves to full distance learning will suspend its sports programs.

One of the main ideas behind the delay in the fall sports season is to gain a few weeks’ worth of COVID-19 data from the opening of in-person schooling, which can then be analyzed by public health experts and other officials to determine whether the metrics support the continued opening of schools and eventual playing of interscholastic sports.

“I don’t think DPH is looking to do anything negative to kids,” Lungarini said, “so I think the more we can talk with each other, the more likely it is we can either understand from them that there is a quantitative measure they are looking at that we are not that shows something different, and we can come to an understanding of their position, or we can hopefully wait longer and see whether or not it is safe to kind of follow the same progression of sports over the summer from June 17 to July 6.”

Region 14, which includes Nonnewaug High in Woodbury, as well as New Haven and Bridgeport schools, have all canceled fall sports. After a student protest at the Region 14 district office Aug. 24, Superintendent Joseph Olzacki said the district would consider whether any safe fall sports alternatives exist.

The CIAC announced earlier in August that fall sports cannot be played in the winter or spring, so there is no further hope for any fall sport that is canceled.

Meanwhile, the stop-and-go nature of summer conditioning poses an additional challenge to student-athletes and coaches.

“The kids are doing a good job and they’re coming to work every day,” Woodland football coach Chris Moffo told the Republican-American. “The kids are in good shape (from) where they were in July to now. I think it’s been tiring on the kids, just the back and forth and pausing and then back and participating. I told the kids the other night to be prepared to go, and as of right now, we’re preparing to play.”

Steve Bainer, a Prospect native who will enter his first year as Derby’s football coach after spending several years as an assistant at Woodland, simply hopes all this rolling with the punches ends up with the season his players deserve.

“I’m happy that our kids will have an opportunity to play,” Bainer told the Rep-Am. “I think our kids deserve to try and play and deserve to get back to some type of routine, socially emotionally and academically. Ideally, we would like to get back to contact and have more of regular practice schedules, but understand now of the changes and we’ll take the best of what is available. There has been some frustration on the kids’ part of the stop and start, but they’re really resilient and have been staying prepared and staying engaged and now they are excited about that.”

The Republican-American contributed to this report.